Robots built by high school students threw balls, navigated walls and raced against the clock in the 2019 Los Angeles Regionals FIRST Robotics Competition at the Los Angeles Convention Center. This year's theme was "Destination: Deep Space," a sample-collecting mission on the fictitious planet Primus. Alliances made up of three teams competed to be the first to load rubber balls, representing cargo pods, and prepare their ship for liftoff in under 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
Over the course of two days, 56 high school teams vied for first place, putting their engineering and teamwork skills to the test with the help of mentors from the professional STEM world, including NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The winning alliance was composed of Team 5199 (Robot Dolphins from Outer Space), JPL-mentored Team 330 (The Beach Bots) and Team 2710 (JetStream). All three teams will move on to world championships in Houston. NASA will also sponsor Chilean Team 5512 (Pizza Mecánica) at world championships in Detroit for winning this year's Regional Engineering Inspiration Award.
The annual robotics tournament is held by the nonprofit FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) to encourage the development of math, engineering and team-management skills in high school students.
Students join FIRST robotics teams from communities all over Los Angeles and all over the world. For this year's L.A. regionals, the three Chilean teams traveled the farthest, some flying 16 hours to reach the competition. Junior Valentina Flores is used to the long hours: She has traveled five hours, round trip, from her hometown in Chile to work with her other Pizza Mecánica robotics team members every week since the competition started. Flores said she loves the challenge and wants to study environmental engineering in college.
"My mom always says to me, 'You really love robotics because you're crazy. You can't be doing this every day. And I'm, like, 'Are you daring me?'" said Flores, laughing.
Teams get six weeks to build their robots, and while they receive guidelines about the size and design of their creation, they have the creative freedom to make any kind of shape, throwing arm or grabbing mechanism they can to get the job done. The experience of planning and programing 120-pound (54-kilogram) robots often carries the students to engineering careers, including at JPL. But students also learn sportsmanship, teamwork and business skills. Team 980 alumna Opal Emellio is now joining the Air Force but returned to mentor younger teammates. She said that being part of the robotics team changed her life path.
"It gave me a lot of inspiration because when I was growing up, I legitimately had no future," Emellio said. "I was failing all my classes, I was about to be going into drugs, and the robotics team has actually saved me from that."
JPL engineer David Brinza, lead mentor for Team 980 (The ThunderBots), began working with FIRST 17 years ago, seeking to bring greater diversity to the engineering field. He said that even if students don't walk away with a prize, they graduate with the life skills needed to thrive.
"We've got kids that have gone to Caltech, MIT, Stanford, UCLA and Cal Poly schools. And some of them after they've gotten out of school start their own businesses and then are really successful," he said. "Some are working for aerospace companies.We have some that are premed. We have a student who is a postdoc now at University of Michigan on a faculty track. We take their knowledge and bring it to the next level."
For more information about the FIRST Los Angeles regional, visit:
For detailed scores and rankings, visit:
For more information about NASA's Robotics Alliance Project, visit:
News Media ContactArielle Samuelson
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.